Portland (24-27) at Los Angeles (31-19)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Los Angeles, CA
Temp: 70° F
  • Game info: 10:30 pm EST Tue Feb 17, 2004
  • TV: NBATV, FSW
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Evident from their strong play in Sunday’s All-Star game, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are finally healthy again.

The duo looks to get the second half of their season off to a strong start when the Los Angeles Lakers host the new-look Portland Trail Blazers.

The Lakers were a heavy preseason favorite to win the NBA title but have been plagued by injuries all season, leaving them in fifth place in the Western Conference despite a 20-5 start.

O’Neal missed 12 games with a strained right calf and one to suspension and Bryant sat out 13 with a sprained right shoulder and a severe cut on his right index finger.

They both appeared to be fully recovered Sunday as O’Neal had 24 points and 11 rebounds to earn MVP honors and Bryant added 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the West’s 136-132 win over the East.

“Both of them are about winning,” said Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett. “Whenever they step on the court, it’s all business, and you have to anticipate that every time you play the Lakers.”

The team will need its two stars healthy with only three of the next 10 games at Staples Center, where the Lakers are 20-4. Los Angeles is 11-15 away from home, including a 4-3 mark on a road trip that took it into the All-Star break.

“I feel as healthy as I’ve been in a long time,” said Bryant, who missed all but the last game of the road trip. “I’m looking forward to getting to practice tomorrow and starting the second half of the season.”

Rick Fox has returned from a torn tendon in his left foot but the Lakers are still without Karl Malone, who has been sidelined since injuring his right knee Dec. 21 and isn’t expected to return until next month.

The Blazers closed the first half of the season with back-to-back losses following a trade that sent Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person to Atlanta for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau.

Portland’s new acquisitions were not in uniform for an 86-81 loss to Utah last Tuesday, but did suit up for a 107-98 loss to Denver on Thursday.

Abdur-Rahim had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Ratliff had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for the Blazers, who won eight of nine prior to the trade. Dickau played just six minutes and had two points.

“It was kind of tough,” Abdur-Rahim said. “We didn’t even have a practice—we just had a shootaround.”

Portland’s leading scorer, Zach Randolph, struggled with just eight points on 2-of-7 shooting—only the second time this season he failed to reach double figures.

“It’s just the first time, we’ve still got some kinks to work out,” he said.

The Blazers play six of their next eight games on the road, where they have won six of seven after going 2-16 in their first 18 away from home this season.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 15): Trail Blazers - 4th place, 13 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Lakers - 2nd place, 6 GB, Pacific Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Trail Blazers - F Darius Miles, F Randolph, C Dale Davis, G Derek Anderson, G Damon Stoudamire. Lakers - F Fox, F Stanislav Medvedenko, C O’Neal, G Gary Payton, G Bryant.

TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Randolph, 21.1 ppg and 11 rpg; Stoudamire, 6.2 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 21.5 ppg; O’Neal, 10.9 rpg; Payton, 5.9 apg.

SEASON SERIES: Trail Blazers, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 13; Trail Blazers, 112-108. At Portland, Stoudamire led the Blazers with 25 points, including a pair of key 3-pointers in the final minutes.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 8-17 on the road; Lakers - 20-4 at home.

INJURIES: Trail Blazers - G Eddie Gill (knee); F Travis Outlaw (knee). Lakers - F Brian Cook (finger); F Malone (knee); F Jamal Sampson (ankle).

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